Monday, September 7th, 2020

Pardon me while I … vent.

The guys who put the siding on my house installed the dryer vent on the bottom. It’s basically a flimsy aluminum tube shoved through a hole in the wall with four flimsy plastic flaps to shut out the weather. It’s not screwed or glued or fastened to the wall in any way. Nothing’s holding it in place except the vinyl siding. I found this out when I started poking at it, looking for a way to add a draft excluder.

I added the white dryer vent on the top. There’s been a hole in the wall for it since we moved in. I guess the dryer used to vent out the top but for whatever reason somebody decided it would be better to add a vent closer to the floor. From my point of view, it’s a lot harder to hook up the vent that way. I have to climb on top of the dryer and reach as far as I can, hanging over the back. I’ve hurt myself a couple times doing that but never badly enough to motivate me to move the vent back up top. I couldn’t figure out how to remove the crappy flapper vent without damaging the vinyl siding, though, so today was the day the vents got swapped around.

The upper hole used to be plugged but the guys who did the siding must have knocked the plug out because there was just a handful of fiberglass insulation wadded up in there. Besides the fiberglass, all that was keeping the weather out was the vinyl siding and a layer of plastic. I drilled a series of holes around the edge of the hole, then cut it open with a Dremel tool. The white vent has a heavy-duty aluminum pipe sticking out the back that slid in as if it was meant to be there, which it was, and four construction screws fastened it to the wall. I had to trim the pipe, again using my trusty Dremel, but the hardest part of the whole operation was moving the dryer, which isn’t all that heavy but is rather large and hard to get a grip on.

I stuffed the wad of fiberglass insulation from the upper hole into the crappy flapper vent and covered it with a piece of extruded foam for now. I’ll do a better job of patching that up when I figure out how to do it without messing up the siding.

Almost forgot to mention: I got voicemail from the guys who did the siding. They wanted to know if there were any jobs around the house that I wanted them to do. I was half-tempted to reply with something snarky, like, “No thanks, I’ve already patched up all the half-assed stuff your guys did.”

Venting | 10:40 am CST
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Monday, June 8th, 2020

If it’s Monday, this must be the last day of my stay-cation. What have I been doing with it? So glad you asked.

(Just a note: I do not actually hear anybody talking to me as I type these words. Self-isolation has gone on a long time, but I am not at that point in my craziness, not yet.)

I spent a lot of the day yesterday unfucking more of the screwups left behind by the contractor who sided our little red house. I’m assuming that most, if not all, of the actual siding was installed correctly, but I have no experience with siding and how it should be correctly installed, so I have no way to know for sure they did a good job with that unless something dramatic happens, like it peels off in a storm. Fingers crossed, that never happens.

But there are a few things they did that lead me to believe their work is less than exemplary. I mentioned recently I discovered an electrical outlet with something *not quite right* about it, and which I had already spent the better part of an afternoon working to fix. Yesterday, I finished that job after a quick trip to the hardware store to buy a new outlet and weatherproof cover for it.

It was a fairly simple fix: I bought a GFCI outlet to replace the regular one that was in there. It was grounded, but it never hurts to have extra insurance, especially for an outdoor outlet. I had to futz around with the box it was mounted in to get the fat-butt GFCI outlet to fit. All I had to do, really, was take a couple of screws out of it, but to do that, I had to dismount the box from the frame I’d built around it, because nothing is easy when it comes to home DIY projects. After remounting the box, though, the rest was easy-peasy.

While I was at the hardware store, I picked up a second outlet and weatherproof cover for another outlet the contractors left in less-than-serviceable condition. That outlet is in a box mounted in an inside corner of the back patio. When they removed it to tear off the old siding, they broke off all but one of the plastic tabs sticking out from the sides of the box. Normally, you’d securely mount it to a wall by driving screws through all four tabs. With only one tab left sticking out, they screwed it in place with just one screw rather than replace the box, so it would sort of flop around when we plugged in or unplugged from it. In my admittedly amateur but somewhat informed opinion, it was probably not the best way they could have fixed that particular problem.

I also picked up a new outdoor light for the patio. The light over the door was a single old-fashioned spotlight; the bulb must have weighed a pound and a half all by itself. Replacing it was something I’ve been meaning to cross off my to-do list for years, but it’s one of those things that I thought about only when I needed to use the light. Because it was a spotlight, it illuminated just one spot, and because it was a crappy old light fixture, it was rusted into position and pointed at a spot somewhere out in the yard. Not so useful.

Taking down the old fixture, which the contractors had had to remove like all the other fixtures when they did the siding, I discovered they’d half-assed reinstalling that, too, shooting a single construction screw through the base of the fixture into the wall, instead attaching it to the box as they should have done. The box was a good inch and a half inside the siding, so I had to find a couple of very long screws to substitute for the screws that came with the mounting.

All that futzing took a couple hours, so by the time I was done I was more than ready for a cold beer and a few hours in the shade with a book. Time with books & beer is so much more satisfying after I’ve scratched a few projects off my list.

scratching | 9:57 am CST
Category: fun with electricity, Our Humble O'Bode | Tags:
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Sunday, May 17th, 2020

No. It’s not supposed to look like that.

While mowing the lawn yesterday afternoon, I went to plug in at the outlet on the back of the garage and as I pushed the prongs of the plug into the face of the outlet, the outlet retreated into the wall. First time that’s ever happened to me.

Then the weather-tight cover came off in my hands as I pulled the plug away from the outlet. This was getting weirder and weirder.

Poking at the outlet, I could see that the metal box it was mounted in wasn’t secured to the wall. I could easily pull it out of the hole in the vinyl cover. I went inside the garage to investigate further and, sure enough, the box was just dangling near the hole cut through the chipboard. The cover, when it was attached, was the only thing holding it in place.

The cover, by the way, had fallen off because the guy who attached it had apparently lost the screw that was there originally when he unscrewed the cover to tear off the siding. Instead of getting a replacement made for an electric outlet, he used a construction screw that was at least an inch and a half long, and he drove it in until it was flush with the cover, which meant he had to drive it completely through the outlet until almost an inch of it stuck out the back. The cover fell off because the head of the construction screw was *not quite* big enough, so it popped through the hole in the cover when I applied a little pressure with the plug.

So I had to stop what I was doing – not that heartbroken about having to stop mowing the lawn, to be quite honest – to switch off the power, haul out my tools, take apart the outlet, build a frame around the hole in the wall, and attach the metal box to it. That’s as far as I got yesterday because I thought I had an outlet in my big bucket o’ electric odds & ends, but I must have used up my last outlet many moons ago. With no replacement outlet and no way I was going to re-use the one that had been lanced by a construction screw, I had to knock off for the day because it was way too late to mask up and head for the hardware store.

screwed | 8:07 am CST
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Sunday, February 2nd, 2020

Woke up pretty early Saturday morning because I messed up my back shoveling snow last weekend, so I still have a nasty leftover twinge that runs from the middle of my lower back across my right hip and down my thigh. I spent most nights this week trying and failing to find a comfortable position to sleep. So from time to time all through the past week I’ve had to stop what I was doing to practice a little physio/yoga, reaching very carefully for my toes, hanging there in rag doll pose for three to five deep breaths, then very carefully and slowly rising all the way up and leaning back, reaching up with my chest and down with my shoulders, until I can’t comfortably go back any further, holding that pose (not sure what the yogis call that; maybe hyperextended question mark?) for another three to five breaths, and finally straightening up and focusing on my lower back to see if it feels any better. Usually it does, for a while.

There hasn’t been a lot of snow this year and though I’ve broken out the shovel a dozen times, more or less, this season, it’s usually been to clear a few inches off the sidewalk; I don’t even bother clearing the driveway when there’s an inch or less because I can count on the sun to burn it off in a few days. Last week, though, we got a couple four-five inches, and the city plow turned that into a big pile at the end of the drive that I couldn’t just drive over, so I had to fire up the snow blower, then clean up the edges of the drive and clear the sidewalk with the shovel. To make it more complicated than it had to be, as part of the work we’ve been having done on the house there was a big trailer parked in the drive that I had to park behind, which meant I had to do a lot more shoveling in the narrow spaces around them instead of zipping down the driveway with the snow blower. And then there was the heavy, wet snow that fell on the weekend; that’s the stuff that my back really wasn’t prepared for.

Warm weather this weekend has been steadily melting the snow away; thanks, Mother Nature! Could’ve used that a little earlier this week, though.

A contractor from Mike’s Painting named Dave stopped by the house Saturday about ten o’clock to paint the wall in our bedroom where they had to tear out the rotten framing around the window and patch it up with fresh new framing and drywall. The drywallers came by middle of last week to plaster over the patched spot, and Dave, the painter from Mike’s, was there to paint over the plaster. Unfortunately he couldn’t match the paint exactly, so now one wall of the bedroom is a light tan color and the other three walls are a slightly darker, more yellow sand color. But! You wouldn’t otherwise suspect there was a big hole in the wall only two weeks ago; you would only wonder why one wall was a different color, if you wonder about things like that.

We had a couple hours of quiet time in the afternoon after Dave from Mike’s finished and packed up his stuff, so I stretched out on the sofa to read a little and have a short nap before Tim came over. I have a crazy-large collection of anthologies of short stories in the science fiction & fantasy genre; I used to eat this stuff up with a spoon when I was a kid but got away from it later and didn’t read it at all for many, many moons. I rediscovered it after I checked out a copy of John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War from the main branch of the Madison Public Library, my favorite spot to spend my lunch hour when I worked downtown. Scalzi writes the kind of science fiction I enjoyed so much as a kid: character-driven with lots of dialogue, fast-paced action, and SHIPS IN SPAAACE! His latest book is due out in April and I’m on tenterhooks waiting for its release. Meantime, I’m gobbling up other authors like Mary Robinette Kowal (The Calculating Stars, The Fated Sky), Chuck Wendig (Wanderers), N.K. Jemisin (How Long ‘Til Black Future Month?) and Mary Wells (The Murderbot Diaries).

Just tangentially, and to self-consciously reassert my cred as a “serious reader,” I’m about two-hundred pages into Cyrus Sulzberger’s fascinating memoir, A Long Row of Candles. Sulzberger was a correspondent for the New York Times and, to judge by what I’ve read so far, he was either one of the most adventuresome men on the planet who met the most colorful people who ever lived, or he may have exaggerated his stories a teensy-tiny bit. Dunno which, not sure I care; it’s a fun read either way, but at more than a thousand pages it’s not nearly as portable as my phone, on which I can read Kindle editions of SHIPS IN SPAAACE! So in the fifteen-minute breaks I get from staring at spread sheets at the office I read sci-fi, and when I have an hour or two of quiet time at home I read Sulzberger.

Except yesterday. Yesterday I wanted fantasy in small bites, to have plenty of time for a nap, and I wanted to discover new authors, so I got one of the anthologies down off the shelf and flipped pages until an interesting title caught my eye. Yesterday it was “Because Change Was the Ocean and We Lived by Her Mercy,” by Charlie Jane Anders. I’ll have to read it again because unfortunately I nodded off about halfway through, one of the hazards of reading preparatory to a nap. I finished the story after I woke up, but I think the continuity break messed up my understanding of the story. I’m not sure I could describe it right now if peace on earth hung in the balance.

Tim came over last night for dinner and a game of Spirit Island. Dinner was take-out from Swad, an Indian restaurant up the street. We feasted on lamb kabob, chicken tikka, chilli chicken and, of course, onion bhaji. A bonus of ordering dinner from Swad: everyone had buckets of leftovers to stock up the fridge for breakfast/lunch/dinner the next day. My dish was spicy enough that I think I’ll have to wait until dinner to finish mine off.

After clearing the dishes from the table and listening to the last half of the latest Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me! podcast, we broke out the gameboard and set up a game of Spirit Island, an anti-colonizing game Tim introduced us to about a month ago. This time I was Lighting’s Swift Strike, blasting towns and cities off the board, while B defended the forests as A Spread of Rampant Green and Tim swept explorers away as River Surges in Sunlight. We cleared the invading colonials off the board in about two and a half hours last night, quite a lot faster than the five or so hours it took the first time we played; I think B and I may finally be getting the hang of this game.

high points | 9:39 am CST
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Sunday, January 26th, 2020

Our little red house is completely red once again!

our little red house

All that’s left to do is put up the gutters and downspouts, and they’re coming back to do that next week.

red once again | 11:21 am CST
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Saturday, January 18th, 2020

Driving into town this morning I had to hit the brakes suddenly and all the ice and snow that had piled up on the roof came sliding down the windshield to almost completely block my view, not an idea situation to be in while driving along one of the busiest roads in Madison.

We’ve had quite a lot of snow fall in the past two or three days and because we haven’t been able to park the car in the garage, a layer of ice about half an inch thick built up on the roof, which was later covered by about three inches of snow. I could get most of the snow off when I cleaned off the car this morning, but the ice was too hard and stuck fast to the roof, but apparently the car warmed up enough as we drove it first to breakfast and then into town for the bond between the ice and the rooftop to loosen, leading up to the surprise and near-blinding I got later.

We can’t park our car in the garage because the guys who are installing the new siding on our little red house have parked a dumpster in the driveway where they toss demolished lumber and scraps of siding. Our car has to sit all by its lonesome self at the end of the driveway in the blowing snow.

snowcrash | 3:01 pm CST
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Friday, January 17th, 2020

Our little house is becoming red again!

new siding for our little red house

This is the most completed part of the project so far. I wish they had started on the front of the house instead of the back so the part of the house that was done was a little more appealing. It’s vinyl siding and I’m not especially keen on vinyl; it makes the house look like a big plastic play house. The original cedar siding looked much nicer where it wasn’t rotten and the paint wasn’t peeling away, but it was in fact rotten in several key areas and it needed painting, which was going to cost as much as new siding. Vinyl doesn’t have to be painted; just pressure-wash it every so often and it looks like new. In the end, that’s why we went with vinyl. We’re probably going to live here until the kids ship us off to assisted living, so the biggest plus is we won’t have to get the paint brushes out to get it ready for sale.

reddening | 6:24 am CST
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Sunday, January 12th, 2020

our little naked houseOur little red house is not so red right now! It’s been mostly white for the better part of a week, but was briefly a color best described as cow patty brown, and thank goodness that’s been covered over. I much prefer the industrial look of the plasticized vapor barrier they wrapped it with.

A crew came by first thing last week to tear all the old siding off the house; took them all day Monday and part of the day Tuesday. Tearing off the siding resulted in a plumbing emergency that was a little scary but quickly taken care of. They wrapped almost the entire house in an impermeable plastic that helps insulate the house; now it looks like we live in a box of toilet paper or some other mass-market product.

There’s no plastic wrap on the north wall yet because they found a bunch of rotten wall framing where water got in behind a window frame. They’ll tear out the rot next week and replace it with fresh new framing; that ought to make for an interesting day or two.

Meanwhile, they’ve already begun to put up vinyl siding in the back, so it’s starting to look like a real house again but only if you’re in the back yard and only if you cover half the house with your outstretched hand.

siding update 1 | 9:38 am CST
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Tuesday, January 7th, 2020

The house was naked when we got home last night. All the siding had been ripped off it. That was expected. There are no roving gangs of vandals stripping the siding from houses in our neighborhood; we actually hired a contractor to pull all the old siding off, then put new siding on. Nothing to worry about here.

What was worrisome, though, was the sound of running water we heard after we entered the house. It seemed to be coming from the kitchen, so My Darling B went straight to it. She opened the dish washer, thinking maybe I had loaded it up in the morning and it had somehow gotten stuck in the rinse cycle, but she could quickly see that it wasn’t running, so she checked under the sink. No sign of anything amiss under there.

We shared a significant look just then, and I could tell she was thinking of the deluge, too. We had a little accident a couple years back when an overflowing toilet flooded the basement so catastrophically that we had to call in a small army of people to clean it up, and damned if that “running water” sound didn’t sound a lot like this.

As I ran down the stairs to the basement, I could hear the sound of water splashing, gushing, cascading and otherwise doing what would be described using words that would generally denote a more cheerful activity than the one that was happening in our house. It didn’t take long for me to find where the water was coming from, but the leak was behind a panel I would have to tear out to get to it, so I ran back upstairs, changed into grubby clothes, and got to work.

And while I was racing around, I was making several phone calls to the contractors who had ripped the siding off my house, because what had happened apparently was this: There’s a faucet for the garden hose out back of the house. A pipe from the house runs out through a hole in the siding. From what I could tell, when they tore off the siding, they pulled the faucet off, too. Weirdly, they put the faucet back by stuffing the broken pipe back into the hole, as if that would somehow fix things. I conveyed all this information to the contractors, who called a plumber, who arrived at our humble o-bode later that evening, by which time I had shut off the water main and cleaned things up a bit.

The plumber examined the broken pipe, made two quick cuts with a nifty powered tool that removed a two-inch length of pipe so he could get in there with his hand, then fished a small brass cap out of his pocket which he fit over the end of the pipe and pounded it home with the heel of his hand. “You want to turn the water back on?”

“Don’t you at least want to hit that with a hammer?” I asked, because I believed he would at the very least have to solder the cap in place. He insisted it would hold, so I opened the main water valve, expecting to hear the sound of water spraying gaily all over the plumber as he yelled for me to turn it off again. No such thing happened. I stared in wonder at the little brass cap and asked him what the hell it was, because I wanted a couple of them on hand for the next plumbing emergency.

Monday flood | 5:58 am CST
Category: adventures in plumbing, Our Humble O'Bode, random idiocy | Tags:
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Friday, January 3rd, 2020

We had a somewhat unexpectedly big day here at our little red house: a small crew of men arrived in the early morning hours to knock the picture window out of the front of the house and replace it with a newer picture window. This was only somewhat unexpected because I actually contracted with a local business to do exactly what they did, but that was months ago, and it has taken so long to finalize the deal and get them to commit to a schedule that I frankly began to wonder if it was ever going to happen in my lifetime. Until yesterday morning.

I noticed I got a call from the contractor when I took my phone out of my pocket after I got to the office yesterday. I called them back right away — this was at about seven-thirty in the morning — and the guy who answered said something like, “I just want to make sure we’re still on for today.” And I answered, “On for today?” in the tone of voice of a person who isn’t sure exactly what he’s being asked to commit to, for the good reason that I wasn’t.

“Didn’t you get my voicemail yesterday?” he asked. “A couple of guys are going to replace your windows this morning.” When I asked what time we could expect a couple of random guys to show up at our house, he said probably between eight-thirty or nine o’clock.

“I wonder if you could hold off until I can make sure my wife is awake?” I asked, this time using the tone of voice of a person who was warning him not to wake my wife if he had any idea what was good for him.

By lucky chance, My Darling B was home from the office yesterday. Lucky, because one of us would have to be at home to let the workmen in so they could knock the old window out and install the new one. Unluckily, however, B took the day off from work so she could relax; you know, hang out in her pajamas with a hot mug of coffee and a book, which was very unlikely now that I knew big burly men were going to be hammering and drilling and tromping around in our living room. Also in our kitchen. They were going to replace the kitchen window, too.

I called B immediately after I got off the phone with the contractor, but she didn’t answer because it was seven-thirty in the morning and she would never be awake that early on a day when she does not have to get out of bed before she just naturally awakens, which normally happens any time after, say, nine o’clock, and sometimes much later. I called her again about ten minutes later and at ten-minute intervals after that until, at about twenty past eight, she finally answered. Before I could tell her much at all, she sleepily informed me a truck just dumped a pile of construction materials in our front yard. She even sent a photo of the pile to me via text message.

I quickly explained to her that several strange men would shortly ring our doorbell and ask to be let in so they could bash out the windows, and that she should probably think about gathering up the cats and sequestering them behind a closed door of one of the rooms in the house, or maybe I suggested that she put on some clothes first and then round up the cats. It’s hard to remember exactly how I conveyed to a very sleepy woman who had anticipated spending the day drinking hot coffee in the cozy comfort of her home would now have to look forward to a day of loud construction in the very rooms where she had hoped to lounge.

She was a little on the grumpy side of unhappy about this change of plans, as she had every right to be, but she managed to corral the cats and pull on some blue jeans and a sweatshirt in the few minutes she had left before the construction crew showed up. She spent most of the day barricaded in one of the bedrooms trying to stay our of their way and keep warm in a house that suddenly had a very large hole in it in the middle of winter. The hole was filled with a new window in just a few short hours, but the construction crew wasn’t done hammering and drilling until about three o’clock in the afternoon, so almost the entirety of B’s day off went down the tubes and she was still a tad grumpy by the time I returned home at five o’clock.

windowless | 6:36 am CST
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